What we’ve always considered to be true and the actual truth aren’t necessarily the same thing.
That lesson was brought home to me last week when a relative sent me a document detailing the list of passengers from Ireland who set sail for America in April of 1848. Among those onboard were our family’s ancestors who left everything behind to begin a new life.
And that’s when the contrast between what I’d always believed and reality hit me. The way my mother told the story, the patriarch of the family left Ireland with the eldest son, then sent for other family members two by two as soon as enough money had been saved to earn their passage.
The official list of passengers my cousin sent showed the names of both husband and wife alongside children ages 13, 9 and 2 as well as a newborn and yet unnamed infant. Looking back, if a man’s pregnant wife and children were in danger of starving to death, I suppose it only seems reasonable that he would have gathered the entire clan and fled at once.
It’s not hard to imagine how a family’s oral traditions handed down across six generations might begin to differ from what actually happened. My mother was only repeating what she had been told, after all.
That makes me wonder how much of what we believe isn’t quite true. We have our perceptions — and then we have reality. The two don’t necessarily coincide.
Or to put it the way a former pastor once told The Soulful Catholic, “You can believe something sincerely and be sincerely wrong.”
Of course, the manner in which our family emigrated from Ireland isn’t of much magnitude in the scheme of things. But what about the larger issues affecting all of us? What if the things we’ve always believed don’t quite match reality?
Take for example the notion that there is no hell and we can each devise our own moral code, one that suits our fancy. It’s not hard to find people in the Church, whether Catholic or Protestant, who claim Christianity needs to dispense with outmoded teachings injurious to modern sensibilities. This comfortable, politically correct version of Christianity doesn’t cramp one’s style or demand conversion of heart.
Now take a look at this sobering passage from the Diary of St. Faustina:
“I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but they stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings” (Diary 153).
In a society that values the endless pursuit of pleasure and luxury and simultaneously abhors suffering, St. Faustina’s words are like a bucket of ice water thrown in our face. It’s time to wake from the delusion and face reality.
We begin the season of Lent with the sign of ashes on foreheads, reminding us to repent from sin and that we’re made from dust and will return to dust.
Jesus tells us quite clearly that those who want to be His disciples must pick up their cross and walk the narrow way. It’s a far cry from the sentimentality of modern faith that assures us “nice” people go on to become angels who watch over us when they die and that sin doesn’t really matter.
Reality check: God cares about everything. Especially us. It’s why He sent His Son into the world to redeem us. And it’s up to us to accept God’s invitation to follow along that narrow way, painful as it can be at times. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).”
We can pretend that sin doesn’t exist and continue ignoring commandments we find inconvenient, but when we stand before God at the end of our lives, none of those delusions will matter.
Reality will set in at that moment as it becomes clear that it is only the way of the cross which leads to the glory of resurrection and the joys of heaven.
It is time to reject the lies passed on to us by a culture that increasingly ignores the truth of the Gospel. May God grant us the grace to walk in His truth, to share it with others and pray for the conversion of all — beginning with ourselves — before it’s too late.